The World Cup is a stage for dreamers. One incredible month that inspires the world to believe anything is possible. For Filipe Masetti Leite, a native Brazilian who moved to Canada at 10, the World Cup being hosted in his home country offered an opportunity to fulfill his wildest dream.
World Cup pilgrimages are made by people from every corner of the globe, but soccer is just a small part of this story. Leite, 27, grew up listening to his father, Luis, tell the story of Aime Tschiffelly’s trip by horseback from Buenos Aires to New York City. Filipe couldn't think of a more perfect way to discover the Americas and take in everything it has to offer.
Leite, who has a journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto, left Calgary in July 2012 with his sights set on arriving in Brazil for the world's biggest sporting event two years later thanks to the support of a few sponsors and a production company, OutWildTV.
Over the next 14,000-plus kilometres, nearly 700 days on the road, 10 countries, six pairs of boots, and 240 horseshoes he and his horses have encountered numerous natural and human challenges.
He came across a grizzly bear while riding through Montana and experienced an earthquake in Bolivia. He battled the elements, riding through snow, wind storms, and extreme heat and humidity. There were nights where water was hard to come by.
But maybe the most difficult obstacle to overcome were the issues with bureaucracy he faced at certain times during the trip.
He was unable to bring his horses through Panama and was forced to improvise how he would continue his journey. His horses were initially quarantined upon arrival in Brazil. He saw firsthand the grip that the drug trade holds over Mexico and much of Latin America.
The hardships tested his resolve, making the highs that much more rewarding.
"I have learned that I am stronger than I ever imagined. This trip has required so much mental strength," said Leite. "There have been moments where everything around you is falling apart but you can't break down because your animals depend on you. We faced many challenges that may have driven people to quit."
He kept on riding, sharing this adventure with his mother, father, girlfriend, and the hundreds of people he met who went out of their way to help him out. The ride has taken him through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, including Montana's Rockies, Yellowstone National Park, the Chihuahua Desert, Costa Rica's coast, Bolivia's Andes near Lake Titicaca and the Pantanal in Brazil. He has forged relationships with people at every stop along the way.
On top of everything, he is unbelievably grateful for the three horses that made his dream a reality. There are already plans to build a statue of the horses in Barretos, the site of the largest rodeo in Latin America.
"Frenchie, Bruiser and Dude are warriors and the true heroes of this journey," said Leite.
The work isn't done yet, but it didn't take long after finally reaching Brazil for Filipe to pull out and put on an iconic yellow and green No. 10 jersey. After all, current No. 10 Neymar and El Selecao are favorites to win the World Cup for a record sixth time.
"People are really excited," Leite told CTV Alberta. "The Brazilian people, they love soccer and this is a celebration that takes in the world. It's just amazing to be here for the World Cup."
Soccer isn't the only sport to make an appearance during his trek. While riding through Acayucan, Mexico, Leite came across a youth baseball team that did not have a proper set of uniforms. Through the power of social media, he was able to reach out and find someone who was interested in supplying the team with their own gear.
"On my last day in Acayucan, the uniforms arrived," wrote Leite in a blog post. "As we passed them out, the kids yelled and jumped with joy. I honestly had to fight back the tears as I watched these kids celebrate."
That's just one of the amazing stories Leite hopes to share with others.
"I hope my journey inspires others to follow their dreams. As a journalist, I also jumped into the saddle to show how kind humanity can be. Whether I was in Canada, Mexico, Guatemala or Peru, people took me in like a family member and helped me so much," said Leite. "I will produce a documentary alongside OutWildTV and write a book on my experience these past two years. I love the power documentaries have to instill hope, create change, and inform people. It is an extremely powerful tool I hope to use my entire life."
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